How To Make A Documentary - And How Not To

Posted December 12, 2020
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Documentary filmmaker.

The very term conjures up a romantic version of taking control of the media and using it for the social good.

You are no longer making stupid TV shows for entertainment. You are doing something IMPORTANT.

Trust me, I understand the appeal

When I was a student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, they divided up the class by media

Print -magazines and newspaper was the most popular by far

Radio - smaller but still popular

TV - the distinct minority.  The adopted stepchild of the journalism family.

Then, within the TV group, yet another fractionalization - TV news and documentary.

I opted for documentary filmmaking. 

Always the romantic.

We were then divided into teams.  My teammate was Ron Suskind, who would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize (among other things) for his writing (traitor!)

We made our documentary film. I am sure it was terrible, What student film is not terrible?

Many years later, I am still approached by people who want to make documentary films.  I tell them that it is a labor of love. There is almost no market for documentaries -at least not if they are made in the traditional way. Too expensive.  No network could ever make its money back.

I am reminded of this because over on Twitter,
 Sent me an interesting study on Documentary Filmmaking
As soon as I started to read it, I thought, NO NO NO
It was done by someone named The Whickers, and apparently they annualy award £80,000 to some worthy doc filmmaker. They were curious as to whether that was enough.
Are you kidding me?
Well, based on their very extensive study of current doc filmmakers, I can see the immediate problem. It begins right at the beginning, when they talk about who they interviewed
Directors of Photography
Executive Producers
Production Managers
Camera Operators
Hello Whickers, you can stop right there.
Today, anyone who wants to make a documentary film should be able to do ALL of those things on their own,

If you can't shoot, you can't write, you can't edit - well jeez, you have no business making films. So lets cut the 'staffing cost' by about 99% from the get go.
Then we get to the all important EQUIPMENT RENTAL
OK.  Trash all the film cameras (are you kidding me?) and the rental of the Reds.  All you need is an iPhone.

A one time purchase.
See, we have cut the budget again.
To next to nothing.
About the same cost as writing a novel.
You don't hire a writer if you want to write a novel, do you?
Same here.
Now we come to their primary question - diversity.
Well, if you have to go out and schnoor £80,000  - and by the way, that was LOW in this study.  Think £400,000+, well, it is going to limit who can make a film
But cut the cost to £0 and you are in business.
Get the concept?

Get the phone?
Get to work.
Screw the Director, DP, Executive Procducer, Cinematographer and writer 
Just, as Nike says, Do It.  


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